What’s in a Name

All year, we’ve been celebrating Maui Nō Ka ‘Oi’s twentieth anniversary. What could be more fitting, in our final issue of 2016, than to delve into the origin of our name? Here’s what local historian Gail Ainsworth had to say:

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Story by Gail Ainsworth

looking-backYou’d be forgiven for thinking that Maui nō ka ‘oi, Hawaiian for “Maui is the best,” was cooked up by some marketing wiz to promote tourism. But you’d be wrong. The saying dates back centuries.

Ancient Hawaiians across the archipelago had a history of chant that included mele ho‘o‘ike‘ike, chants that were defined by their blatant bragging. Mele ho‘o‘ike‘ike could be quite rousing and often boastful of a particular beloved location. In the 1800s, Maui became the first island to take this tradition in a new direction, when Reverends S. Pa‘aluhi and Samuel Kapū Sr. of Ka‘ahumanu Church in Wailuku began to write songs using the phrase Maui ka ‘oi. Here’s an excerpt from Kapū’s song “Ku‘u Home ‘o Maui”:

Auē, ke aloha ē,
U‘i roselani ē,

Nani Haleakalā,
Ku‘u home ‘o Maui nō ka ‘oi,

Ku‘u home ‘o Maui nō ka ‘oi. 

Oh, the love [I feel]!
For the roselani beauty
So lovely is Haleakalā
My home, Maui is the best!

My home, Maui is the best!

“Maui nō ka ‘oi” resonated with the island’s people. Subsequent songwriters seem to have had a near-obsession with the phrase, incorporating it in boasting songs that also praised Haleakalā and the roselani, Maui’s flower. Many of these songs were written anonymously, the poets humbly wanting to keep the name of their revered island foremost, rather than themselves.

Know that when you repeat “Maui nō ka ‘oi,” you are continuing a tradition that began with ancient Hawaiian chant, and two centuries of Maui song. — Gail Ainsworth

(And two decades of celebrating Maui in the pages of this magazine. — Ed.)

Wailuku historic photo
This print from the late 1800s depicts the town of Wailuku at the foot of West Maui’s mountain. In the foreground sits Ka‘ahumanu Church, whose reverends gave song to the saying Maui nō ka ‘oi.

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